‘No’ on I-1163

Supporters say it’s about vulnerable adults, but it’s really about unfunded mandates

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The state’s largest union would have you believe Initiative 1163 on the Nov. 8 ballot is about protecting services to vulnerable adults. The truth is, though, Initiative 1163 actually is about the union.

This ballot measure calls for something that already occurs, paying for it with money the state doesn’t have, and solving a problem that doesn’t exist. For those three reasons, The Columbian recommends a “No” vote.

The thrust of I-1163 is a call for background checks and training of those who care for frail seniors and people with disabilities. However, both of those programs are already required by law. Furthermore, strengthening of those programs is scheduled to begin in 2014, postponed until then by a desperate Legislature. Lawmakers continue to wrestle with a deficit that has grown to a projected $1.4 billion, dire enough for Gov. Chris Gregoire to call a special session after Thanksgiving. The Service Employees International Union is pushing I-1163 so that those changes postponed until 2014 can begin sooner, but as the Washington Research Council concludes, “Even if voters believe this is a worthwhile program, we simply cannot afford it.”

Here’s the problem that doesn’t exist: SEIU wants Washingtonians to believe problems in care for the elderly and disabled are widespread. The system is not perfect, but SEIU’s evidence is largely anecdotal and, as we pointed out in a 2008 editorial, Washington’s health care system was named one of the top three in the country by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Even if there were a problem, I-1163 is an illogical way to solve it. If passed, it would impose an unfunded mandate, estimates of which range from $13 million over six years (according to I-1163 supporters) to $40 million over the next biennium (say the I-1163 opponents.) Regardless of the cost, the money simply isn’t there, as Gregoire has pointed out.

So, where would that money come from if I-1163 passes? That’s right, from other state programs, and it’s safe to assume some of those service cuts would occur in care programs for vulnerable adults, the very citizens SEIU says it is trying to protect.

Wise voters will see through that claim. This initiative is just a scheme to expedite a training program for the union. And don’t sell the union short. The Seattle Times has reported that SEIU is outspending its opponents by 29 to 1.

Both the voters and the Legislature already have dealt with this matter. Three years ago, voters passed Initiative 1029 (opposed by The Columbian), which called for basically the same provisions as this year’s I-1163. But legislators chose twice to postpone implementing the changes because of the drastic demands of the economic recession. Here’s how the WRC views those developments over the past three years: “In comparison to other state programs, not funding this one has been an easy choice. As the governor’s 2011-13 budget explained in proposing to delay the program again until 2013-2015, ‘No clients will lose service as a result of this delay.’” You can bet, though, that clients will lose service if I-1163 passes and the new costs have to be found somewhere in the state budget.

It should be clear to voters that I-1163 is not about protecting vulnerable adults; it’s about promoting the best interests of SEIU. The union is certainly acting properly in promoting its own interests, but voters need to see I-1163 for precisely what it is.